So you want to protect your vehicle but can’t decide which theft deterrent is right for you?
You Google search “auto theft prevention” and come across dozens of links with advice like this:
- “Lock your doors.”
- “Do not leave valuables in your vehicle.”
- “Park in well-lit areas.”
- “Remove your keys.”
This is the same advice that Henry Ford offered Model T customers in 1915.
How can a century pass without prevailing knowledge of vehicle theft protection changing?
Part of the problem is that many solutions are only partially effective. For example, a wheel lock will protect your car from being driven away but does nothing to dissuade thieves from breaking in.
So how do you decide which product is best for your situation? This article breaks down eight of the most important criteria to consider before purchasing a car theft deterrent.
Before we dive into the key features of the various solutions in the market, let’s look at seven of the most popular theft deterrents.
- Kill Switch — This device cuts the flow of electricity to the ignition switch or battery and disables the fuel pump. Unless a thief can find the kill switch, this prevents a thief from driving away with your car even if they’ve succeeded in breaking into it.
- Wheel Lock — Also referred to as a wheel clamp or parking boot, is a mechanical device used to prevent motor vehicles from moving. Its most common form consists of a clamp that surrounds a vehicle wheel, designed to prevent both the removal of the wheel and navigation of the vehicle.
- Steering Wheel Lock — Another mechanical device that fastens to the steering wheel and makes the navigation of the vehicle nearly impossible. Some models prevent turning of the wheel while others attach to the brake pedal.
- GPS Tracker — A Global Positioning System device that tracks the whereabouts of your vehicle and, when adequately hidden, is a reliable solution for tracking and recovering a stolen vehicle.
- Car Alarm — In its simplest form, a car alarm is one or more sensors communicating with a siren. A loud siren warns anyone within earshot should the sensors detect tilt, shock, sound, or vibration.
- Dashcam Surveillance Unit—A dashboard-mounted camera system that can detect unusual activity, store that video in the cloud, and alert the user with an immediate update to their phone.
- The Knight by Keep — A multi-sensor, connected device that rests in the cupholder of your vehicle. The Knight locks into place and sounds an alarm when an unauthorized individual enters the vehicle. In addition, it is video-enabled, allows for 24/7 monitoring, and has GPS capabilities.
For this analysis, we purposely left off products that were designed to solve completely different problems. For instance, a device found on most “Top 10” lists for car theft deterrents is a common baby monitor, which requires a bedroom within range of where you park your car.
Other items that are commonly used by vehicle owners include stickers that signal a vehicle is being monitored and devices with blinking red lights but no other function. If your budget is $7 or less, this might be your best option but you’ll get what you pay for.
We looked at each product across eight categories:
- Ease of installation
- Theft deterrent
- Break-in deterrent
- Mobile notifications
- Remote monitoring
- GPS tracking
In this analysis, only one device could claim strengths across all eight features.
To determine the relative strength of a product in this category, you should consider two factors.
- How easy is it to install the first time?
- How often do you have to install it?
For example, a steering wheel lock is straightforward to install the first time. You remove it from the packaging, slide it onto your steering wheel, and pull it tight.
For someone who wants to read zero instructions, this is your best bet. The steering wheel lock comes with a key, and uninstalling the device is also easy. But there is a catch.
How many times per day do you think you get in and out of your car? According to AAA, the average person makes 2.41 trips per day, which nearly doubles on weekends. For individuals with children, this number skews even higher.
Installing a steering wheel lock or a parking boot once might be simple, but are you willing to install it upwards of 5 times per day? Many break-ins and thefts occur while people make short trips, as it takes seconds to get away with a car. If you are unwilling to install your device every time you park, it cannot be an effective deterrent.
Some of the products on this list are so complicated to install that you need to hire a service shop. The average person is not capable of establishing a car alarm, kill switch, or GPS tracker. To illustrate the number of steps for these devices, we’ve included representative installation videos below:
The Knight car alarm by Keep was designed for an easy, one-time installation. Out of the box, a user downloads an app, connects to the device via QR code, twists the device into the cupholder, and charges the device through the OBD port or a USB port.
Because the Knight locks into place with a patented clutch mechanism, users do not need to reinstall it every time they enter the vehicle. A typical Knight installs in minutes and remains in place until you decide to move it to another car.
Of the possible outcomes when a thief enters your vehicle, nothing is more expensive or stressful than the individual driving away. Most vehicles are never recovered and are torn apart in “chop shops” to be sold for parts. The owner recovers only 1 in 5 stolen vehicles, and 30% of those returned have damage.
Because of the potential losses, most people look for a device that prevents outright vehicle theft, first and foremost. In this category, some of the mechanical solutions stand out.
A steering wheel lock or parking boot will prevent a thief from driving more than a block or two. What’s more, few thieves will bother to approach a vehicle with an apparent visual deterrent in place. There are always exceptions:
A hidden kill switch is also incredibly effective as thieves are working against the clock. Most won’t have time to search for a kill switch or even know that one is installed. So the vehicle won’t start, and they will leave to find another.
A car alarm will likely deter a typical joyrider or novice car intruder, but an experienced thief can clip a few wires in less than one minute. What’s worse, experts estimate that 90–95% of car alarms triggering are false, according to Noise Free America. With so many false alarms, few people bother to pay attention when an alarm sounds, giving thieves plenty of time to disable without being caught.
A GPS device might help you locate your vehicle after the fact, but it won’t stop a thief from stealing your car. And a dashcam is quickly thrown out the window by a thief wearing a mask.
The Knight tackles car theft by closing many of the holes in the devices above. The device detects and warns potential intruders with loud chirping sounds and flashing red lights as they approach the door with multiple sensors. Should the perpetrator proceed to open the door, an alarm sounds with the pitch of an ambulance.
The video starts rolling immediately, and Keep’s monitoring center is notified of the break-in. A thief cannot quickly dispose of the alarm as it is locked into the cupholder, and GPS will follow your car if the thief persists.
Burglary (Break-In) Deterrent
While 873,080 vehicles were stolen in 2020 in the United States, a survey by Zebra showed that 20.2% of Americans have had their car burglarized. That translates to roughly 20M households reporting a past incident of a vehicle break-in.
It is much easier for a thief to pull up on a door handle and steal valuables than to make off with your vehicle. And these crimes might be growing due to technological advancements, as reported by the New York Times.
Few products on the market effectively protect against car theft while thwarting thieves from breaking into your vehicle. For example, a parking boot or steering wheel lock won’t do much to prevent someone from taking a laptop from your backseat.
A GPS device or kill switch are ineffective deterrents if someone wants to steal the items from your glove box. Most of the car theft deterrents must be paired with another product if your goal is to protect valuables inside of your car.
A car alarm will have some effect in speeding a thief away from the scene of the crime, but not likely before they spend 30 seconds rifling through your belongings. For the reasons mentioned above, an average thief is not worried about neighbors thinking the noise is anything but a false alarm.
A dashcam can effectively thwart a thief or share a feed with the police after the crime. A thief is less likely to approach a vehicle with a visible dashcam than one without.
The Knight approaches this from both prevention and recovery standpoints. The device notices anyone near the car who does not have a key fob or connected smartphone. Before the stranger can lift the door handle, the device flashes red and begins a loud chirping sequence.
Once inside the car, video records of the crime while an unbearable alarm sounds within the vehicle. The owner is notified via the Keep app, and a monitoring service immediately notifies the police of the location and event.
Mobile notifications and monitoring
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 35% of property crimes are reported to the police, and less than 20% of cases result in an arrest, charge, or prosecution. In addition, less than 7% of all property crimes lead to any action by the police.
By the time most victims learn of the crime, it is too late. A car thief operates at times that limit their exposure. When the police are notified, the perpetrators are long gone. No deterrent is foolproof, so the next best feature is immediate notification and police dispatch.
Many dashcams, car alarms, and GPS tracking devices can now connect to the cloud via cellular networks. Some vibration alarms can even notify you every time someone bumps into your vehicle. Viper’s SmartStart service sends real-time alerts for any alarm trip, tow, low battery, harsh acceleration, or impact detection.
With the Keep mobile platform, owners are notified immediately when our alarm trips. Keep also offers a monitoring service where a live person can alert the authorities immediately at any time of day. But alerting the authorities is only effective if the criminal is caught with your vehicle or caught on video in the act.
Apprehension is nearly impossible for authorities without evidence. For the police to pursue a suspect, they need a reliable witness or video evidence. Since most professional criminals steer clear of crowds, recording them in the act might be the best shot at bringing them to justice.
This eliminates most car theft deterrents on the market, aside from dashcams which do an incredible job of dissuading thieves. A camera on a dashboard is highly visible. It is much safer to choose a car without one. Video constantly rolls so anything a thief does inside of your vehicle can be captured.
The downside of a dashcam is that it can be thrown out the window immediately. So, a thief would only need to cover their face long enough to dispose of the deterrent. However, a dashcam is still enough of a risk to pass on entering your car possibly, but one that can be overcome easily.
Keep’s device attacks this dilemma with a design that anchors into your cupholder. Extendable legs detach when the device is twisted until it locks into place. Once anchored, the only way to remove the device is by having access to the owner’s app on their smartphone. Pair that with a loud alarm, and Keep’s device packs a 1-2 punch that is tough for criminals to beat.
Only one in five stolen cars is eventually returned to the owner. Thieves typically offload stolen vehicles at chop shops, where they are disassembled for parts. So your vehicle will likely not be on the road to be identified for long.
But a GPS device can lead the police directly to your vehicle, even if it is parked in a garage. Most of the high-end versions of the electronic solutions on our list offer GPS capabilities. However, a GPS is only effective if it has not been thrown out the window.
Regardless of what deterrent you choose, it is unlikely that a thief has not encountered it before. And if possible, they will look to shut down or remove your device by any means necessary.
A vibration alarm typically resides under the hood of your car and is shut down with the cut of a few wires. Dashboard cameras and GPS trackers are also easily discarded once a thief has gained access to your vehicle. A kill switch could be removed but first, a thief would have to find it. They will move on to the next car most of the time when the engine doesn’t start up.
A steering wheel lock or wheel lock is nearly impossible to remove. If outright theft is the goal, a thief will likely walk right past your car as both locks are highly visible. Criminals have too many choices to waste time trying to cut these devices off.
The Keep Device anchors into a cupholder. With a few turns of the wrist, expandable legs extend until they are locked in.
Once engaged, the device remains locked in place until the user disengages through the mobile app. And trying to remove a device with an alarm as loud as a chainsaw is not for the faint of heart.
Making a choice
The decision on which car theft deterrent is right for you comes down to function and price. Most devices that we reviewed have a price tag under $100 but are limited in features. For example, you might need to pair a steering wheel lock with a dashcam and kill switch for complete protection.
As with most things, you get what you pay for. If you want a high technology solution with few drawbacks and maximum effectiveness, you won’t find a better solution than the Keep Device.